When news broke Wednesday that police had arrested the suspected Golden State Killer — aka the Original Night Stalker — my first thought was of Bruce Harrington, who has endured a 38-year nightmare to seek justice for the slaughter of his brother and sister in law.
That day in 1980 when newlyweds Keith and Patty Harrington were bludgeoned to death in their Orange County home seems like a lifetime ago, and we’ve made great strides in forensics. DNA wasn’t available for prosecutions back then and catching a serial killer required not only great police work but a fair amount of luck.
Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo, now 72, would eventually be linked to a dozen murders and 45 rapes including the Harrington’s because of DNA, which was first used to convict An unrelated killer in 1988. California now has a massive DNA database and we have Bruce Harrington to thank for this. He introduced a ballot measure that passed in 2004 requiring mandatory DNA samples from all arrested or charged felons and sexual assault suspects.
But California’s infamous Gov. Jerry Brown and his far left Legislature have essentially rolled back these DNA collection efforts with a terrible law they promoted — 2014’s Prop. 47. It reclassified a host of felonies as misdemeanors and eliminated the ability to collect DNA for those crimes. A subsequent bill to fix this loophole died in the Senate.
DNA collection is an important tool not only to assist cases gone cold, but also to exonerate those falsely charged with a crime.
As a former Assistant District Attorney, I can tell you that heinous crimes are often solved by forensic evidence perpetrators leave behind while committing lower level crimes early in their careers.
I was a member of the California Legislature and its Public Safety Committee when Bruce Harrington asked me in 2004 to help him co-chair his initiative, Prop. 69. He was convinced that it would eventually yield the clues that would solve his family’s murder and last week, that was exactly what happened.
So, while law enforcement is rejoicing for solving this case, it’s a bittersweet victory because Sacramento has started dismantling this law along with other pro-victim measures enacted over the years. Violent crime is now up 4 percent over 2016 – which was 10 percent higher than 2015 — and this is 20 percent higher than the national median. In my home of Orange County, California, crime is up more than 20 percent.
In addition to Prop. 47, Brown and his colleagues Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and former state Attorney General Kamala Harris have backed laws like AB109 in 2011, which transferred a segment of felons to county jail instead of prison; and Prop. 57 in 2016, which gave a get out of jail free card to a large class of prisoners.
Brown has been quoted as saying, “Remember a life is not just vengeance; it’s also redemption and forgiveness.” While true, that axiom should apply to innocent crime victims who deserve our protection.
I encounter crime victims on a constant basis and don’t know a single one who doesn’t pray for justice in addition to granting forgiveness. Which leads us to Bruce Harrigan.
Back then, there wasn’t such a bitter divide between parties and I was able to gather a bipartisan slate of elected officials to help promote passage of Harrigan’s ballot measure. This included state Legislators Jackie Speier, Jim Brulte and Lou Correa. We spoke at any community event that would have us and built a fundraising drive to pay for signature gatherers. Failure wasn’t an option.
Now here we are in 2018 and police just solved what appears to be California’s oldest serial killer case. DeAngelo’s murderous cohorts Rodney Alcala (the Dating Game Killer), Gerald Parker (the Bedroom Basher) and Lonnie Franklin Jr. (the Grim Sleeper) were all convicted because of DNA evidence.
No one could have predicted that today Sacramento has a trend of catering to criminals at the expense of victims. Voters have a chance to reverse this tragedy in November by electing pro-victim candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and members of the Legislature.
Todd Spitzer is a Supervisor for District 3 in Orange County and a former California Assemblyman. He has written many public safety laws including Marsy’s Law in 2008, which is the nation’s most comprehensive victim’s bill of rights and Megan’s Law, which allows citizens to search sex offender resident locations online.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.